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A Romance Of Tompkins Square 1891   By: (1849-1913)

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A ROMANCE OF TOMPKINS SQUARE.

By Thomas A. Janvier

Copyright, 1891, by Harper & Brothers

Whether the honey shall be brought to the boiling point slowly or rapidly; whether it shall boil a long time or a short time; when and in what quantities the flour shall be added; how long the kneading shall last; in what size of earthen pot the dough shall be stored, and what manner of cover upon these pots best preserves the dough against the assaults of damp and mould; whether the pots shall be half buried in the cool earth of the cellar or ranged on shelves to be freely exposed to the cool cellar air all these several matters are enshrouded in a mystery that is penetrated only by the elect few of Nürnberg bakers by whom perfect lebkuchen is made. And the same is true of the Brunswick bakers, who call this rare compound honigkuchen, and of the makers of pferfferkuchen, as it is called by the bakers of Saxony.

Nor does the mystery end here. This first stage in the making of lebkuchen is but means to an end, and for the compassing of that end the blending and the baking of the finished and perfect honey cake each master baker has his own especial recipe, that has come down to him from some ancestral baker of rare parts, or that by his own inborn genius has been directly inspired. And so, whether the toothsome result be Nürnberger lebkuchen, or Brunsscheiger peppernotte, or Basler leckerly, the making of it is a mystery from first to last.

It was because of this mystery that the life of Gottlieb Brekel had been imbittered for nearly twenty years ever since, in fact, his first essay in the compounding of Nürnberger lebkuchen had been made. He was but a young baker then: now he was an old one, and notwithstanding the guarded praise of friends and the partial approval of the public (notably of that portion of the public under the age of ten years that attended St. Bridget's Parochial School) he full well knew that his efforts through all these years to make, in New York, lebkuchen such as he himself had eaten when he was a boy, at home in Nürnberg, had been neither more nor less than a long series of failures.

In the hopeful days of his apprenticeship all had seemed so easy before him. Let him but have a little shop, and then a little capital wherewith to lay in his supply of honey, and the thing would be done! He had no recipe, it is true; for he was a baker not by heredity, but by selection. Yet from a wise old baker he had gleaned the knowledge of honey cake making, and he believed strongly that from the pure fount of his own genius he could draw a formula for the making of lebkuchen so excellent that compared with it all other lebkuchen would seem tasteless. But these were the bright dreams of youth, which age had refused to realize.

In course of time the little shop became an accomplished fact; a very little shop it was in East Fourth Street. Capital came more slowly, and three several times, when a sum almost sufficient had been saved, was it diverted from its destined purpose of buying the honey without which Gottlieb could not make even a beginning in his triumphal lebkuchen career.

His first accumulation was swept away through the conquest of Ambition by Love. In this case Love was personified in one Minna Schaus who was not by any means a typical sturdy German lass, with laughing looks and stalwart ways, but a daintily finished, golden haired maiden, with soft blue eyes full of tenderness, and a gentleness of manner that Gottlieb thought and with more reason than lovers sometimes think things of this sort was very like the manner of an angel. And for love of her Gottlieb forgot for a while his high resolves in regard to lebkuchen making; and on the altar of his affections in part to pay for his modest wedding feast, in part to pay for the modest outfit for their housekeeping over the bakery the money laid aside for the filling of his honey pots very willingly was offered up... Continue reading book >>




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